“Deep Dive” focuses on the depth of each position in the Chicago White Sox organization. Each position is broken into a five-part series:
- Depth in the rookie levels (Dominican and Arizona)
- Depth in A-ball (Kannapolis and Winston-Salem)
- Depth in the higher levels (Birmingham and Charlotte)
- Under the Radar-type detail on one of the White Sox players at that position
- Free agent options at that position
This article delves into the career of Carlos Rodón through 2020, his 2021 season with the White Sox, and what his future looks like.
How did he get here?
Carlos Rodón had an awesome three years for the North Carolina State Wolfpack, as his numbers attest:
2012: 9-0, 1.57 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 17 G, 16 GS 114 2⁄3 IP, 71 H, 41 BB, 135 K
2013: 10-3, 2.99 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 19 G, 19 GS, 132 IP, 94 H, 45 BB, 184 K
2014: 6-7, 2.01 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 14 G, 14 GS, 98 2⁄3 IP, 84 H, 31 BB, 117 K
Rodón was considered by many to be the best player available in the 2014 draft, but slipped to the third overall pick due to signability concerns. After brief stops in the AZL and Winston-Salem, he made three starts for the Charlotte Knights before by the end of 2014.
After two starts in Charlotte to begin 2015, Rodón was promoted to the White Sox on April 20. In what has turned to be his only season with the White Sox with nary an IL stint, Rodón did reasonably well despite some control issues, as he posted a 3.75 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 26 appearances (23 starts) totaling 139 1⁄3 innings. In those innings, he relinquished 130 hits (.251 OBA) and 71 walks (11.1%) while fanning 139 (22.9%).
The following year, in which Rodón posted a career-high to date of 165 innings, Rodón compiled a 4.04 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 28 starts as he allowed 176 hits (.273 OBA) and 54 walks (7.6%) while striking out 168 (23.5%). The 2017 and 2018 seasons were both injury-shortened, and in a combined 190 innings for those two years, Rodón posted a 4.17 ERA and 1.30 WHIP by ceding 161 hits (.230 OBA) and 86 walks (10.6%) while fanning 166 (20.5%).
Rodón’s first four starts in 2019 were rather encouraging, as he had posted a 3-1 record over 22 2⁄3 innings by posting a respectable 2.78 ERA and 1.19 WHIP by allowing just 16 hits and 11 walks but striking out 29. However, after two roughed-up starts against the Tigers and Orioles on April 26 and May 1, something clearly wasn’t right. He was placed on the IL for left elbow inflammation, and ultimately underwent year-ending Tommy John surgery in mid-May. He finished that season with a 3-2 record in seven starts totaling 34 2⁄3 innings, with a 5.19 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. In those outings, he allowed 33 hits (.239 OBA) and 17 walks while striking out 46. Also notable is that while Rodón’s ERA was high, his FIP was actually a respectable 3.62.
Thanks to the delayed start in 2020 due to the pandemic, Rodón had time to fully rehabilitate from TJS and actually began the season on the Opening Day roster. Unfortunately after two short rocky starts, Rodón fell victim to shoulder soreness, although he made an abbreviated two-game return out of the bullpen to close the year. The White Sox included him on their postseason roster, but in his lone appearance in Game 3 of the Wild Card Series against the A’s he failed to retire any of his three batters when summoned to protect a 3-2 lead with two outs in the fourth inning; the A’s took the lead, and while the White Sox came back to tie the game, they were ultimately eliminated.
The White Sox non-tendered Rodón last December, a move that the pitcher said motivated him to adopt a healthier diet and get into better shape.
With the White Sox in 2021
With the lefty still unsigned as of February, the White Sox re-signed Rodón to a one-year, $3 million deal. and almost immediately got him working with new pitching coach Ethan Katz to iron out some mechanical issues. Katz later said, “The key was changing how Rodón pushed off the rubber. Before, he’d been driving with just his toe, which was sending him toward first base and setting into motion all the mechanical messiness that had plagued him over the previous few years.” Katz’s goal was to get him to drive more off of his back leg and use his entire foot to explode off the rubber. When you keep a better direct path toward home plate, that also keeps him healthier, as he is not battling across himself all the time.
The work quickly paid off. Rodón didn’t allow a run in his first 16 innings in 2021, spread over three starts — including his April 14 no-hitter against Cleveland. While hitting Roberto Pérez in the left foot with one out in the ninth deprived him of a perfect game, Rodón did complete a hidden perfect game within that stretch, retiring 27 batters in a row from the final inning of his April 5 start against the Mariners through the first out of the ninth in the no-hitter.
Rodón continued to steamroll through the league, striking out a career-high 12 in six innings against the Tigers on April 29, then surpassing that with 13 strikeouts against the Yankees in the Bronx on May 21. In 15 first-half starts, Rodón allowed zero or one runs 10 times, posting a 2.31 ERA and 2.36 FIP. That last mark was the AL’s best at the time, as was his 36.1% strikeout rate; his name began surfacing in Cy Young conversations. His 95.9 mph average fastball velocity to that point was 1.7 mph higher than in any of his full seasons, and three full ticks higher than in 2018, Rodón’s last season before Tommy John surgery. The 15-start mark coincides with the end of Rodón’s first half; only in four of his nine second-half starts was his average fastball velocity within the range he showed in the first half. According to Statcast, in his September 29 start against the Reds, Rodón averaged 90.9 mph, 4.5 mph below his season average, and maxed out at 92.7 mph.
Rodón claimed he wasn’t in any pain, but his arm certainly must have been tired, which would account for that velocity decrease. After all, he had more than doubled his innings output by the All-Star break in comparison to the two previous years combined! Thus, his outings were spread farther and farther apart to help save him for the playoffs, and perhaps preserve him for 2022 as well. With that said, despite the velocity decrease, certainly willed his way to a post-All Star break ERA of 2.51 and WHIP of 0.95 — not far from his pre-break numbers of 2.31 and 0.96. This goes to show that Rodón is now far more than a thrower — he’s a true pitcher by any definition.
Despite pitching in offense-friendly Guaranteed Rate Field, Rodón actually pitched a little better at home (2.26 ERA, 0.83 WHIP) than on the road (2.48 ERA, 1.07 WHIP). His best month came in April, as he posted an incredible 0.72 WHIP and 0.64 WHIP by limiting the OBA to a microscopic .085. While he didn’t suffer than any horrid months, the weakest overall may have been July, when Rodón compiled a 3.81 ERA and 1.15 WHIP while limiting hitters to a .255 OBA. In fact, many hurlers would wish to claim that as their best month! Despite the presence of a world-beating slider, Rodón actually fared better versus righties (.175 OBA, 0.91 WHIP) than lefties (.240 OBA, 1.15 WHIP). Ahead in the count, he was dominant with a (.148 OBA) but his behind-in-the-count numbers were still surprisingly good (.233 OBA). He also pitched well with runners in scoring position (.175 OBA, 0.95 WHIP).
Really, no matter how one breaks down his splits, Rodón had a fantastic year.
The four-seamer was Rodón’s, and perhaps the league’s, most effective pitch, as it led to a -26 run value per Baseball Savant. He threw it 58.7% of the time at an average of 95.4 mph and held opponents slashed to .205/.264/.336. His second most-used offering, a slider averaging 85.8 mph, was presented to hitters 27.2% of the time and stifled them to an incredible .107/.148/.126 line — this also was one of the best pitches in baseball, with a -14 Run Value (less than the four-seamer because it was deployed less frequently). The third pitch in Rodón’s repertoire was his 85.2 mph changeup. This was his weak link, as hitters bashed .367/.425/.612 against. Finally, Rodón’s rarely-used fourth pitch was a 76.8 mph curveball (1.7% of the time); the sample size was too small to evaluate its effectiveness.
When looking at the entire picture of Rodón’s season in a nutshell, he posted a 13-5 record in 24 starts with an impressive 2.37 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. In his 132 2⁄3 innings, he allowed just 91 hits (.189 OBA) and 36 walks (2.4 BB/9) while fanning 185 (12.6 K/9). He finished fifth in Cy Young voting, and would have finished higher if he pitched more innings. He ranked in the top 90 percentile in the following categories: xwOBA, xBA, xSLG, XOBP, K%, Whiff%, xERA and FB velocity. What an incredible year it was!
What made last year’s season sweeter for White Sox brass last year was that he produced all the above results while earning just $3 million. Despite his innings limitation this year, Rodón still produced a 5.0 bWAR — barely trailing Lance Lynn’s 5.4 as the best in the rotation. Considering each bWAR is worth approximately $7.7 million on the free-agent market per FanGraphs, along with his 2021 salary, Rodón produced a net value of $35.5 million!
What does his future have in store?
This is where things get murky. As all White Sox fans are aware, the team did not offer Rodón a $18.4 million qualifying offer. Thus, while he was clearly a surplus value in 2021, the team didn’t believe he’d be worth that amount again due to his injury history. Clearly the team felt it was more desirable to accept Craig Kimbrel’s $16 million option, perhaps due to the reliever’s perceived trade value, than run the risk of Rodón underperforming in 2021.
So now what? There are likely enough teams desperate for starting pitching to offer Rodon a substantial, incentive-laden deal for three years or more, or even a guaranteed contract of at least two-year duration. (Based on the deals meted out before the lockout, this it’s a near certainty that one year of Rodón at $18.4 million would prove a bargain on the open market.) Hopefully the White Sox would be given a chance to beat his best offer Rodón receives, but depending upon the offer, it’s very possible the White Sox may not be able to match it. With that said, Lynn, Lucas Giolito, Rodón, Dylan Cease, Michael Kopech and Dallas Keuchel (it’s hoped he’ll pitch between his 2020 and 2021 levels) would be quite the impressive six-man rotation, tough to beat and well-rested to boot.
Without Rodón, or somebody acquired to fill in his spot, the rotation would be just the five remaining starters with arms like Reynaldo López, Jimmy Lambert, Jonathan Stiever and perhaps John Parke or Emilio Vargas potentially to help if injuries occur. It will be desirable to have one extra arm to count on, as Kopech has pitched a total of just 69 1⁄3 combined innings over the past three seasons. Certainly trades aren’t out of the question, perhaps for someone like Oakland’s Chris Bassitt, but the White Sox system isn’t terribly deep.
Other options include free agency. While the remaining right-handed starters were listed in a previous post, the next Deep Dive will detail the current southpaw starter options who still have not signed yet.